Bask in the inspiration of Cezanne's artwork - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Bask in the inspiration of Cezanne's artwork

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Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 5:00 am | Updated: 8:12 am, Fri Jul 2, 2010.

As a struggling, young and unknown artist in early 20th-century Santa Fe - or elsewhere in the American West - you'd have little hope of going to Paris to study the work of Europe's masters.

At most, you'd have an instructor or fellow artist, better off or better connected than yourself, who had been there once. And you'd have black-and-white photographs of the work of Paul Cézanne, the landmark Post-Impressionist painter credited with laying the foundation of modern art.

"He had such a major influence on the development of modern art. All of the innovations you see at the tail end of the 19th and early 20th centuries are coming through artists who were looking at what Cézanne had done and drawing from his ideas," says Jerry Smith, curator of American and Western American art at Phoenix Art Museum.

"Cézanne and American Modernism" will debut Thursday at the museum. The largest collection of Cézanne works ever assembled in the state, it also features 84 works by 34 American artists who were inspired by the French master's visionary techniques.

Applying their own perspective to his model, they blazed a new path: early American modern painting.

Cézanne, who lived 1839-1906, wanted to create art more structured than Impressionist paintings of the day, works solid enough to stand up next to the art in museums. Unlike anyone before him, he used color to create form and applied parallel brush strokes, like building blocks, to construct images derived from nature. He also used white space, an uncommon practice at the time.

"Cézanne would leave areas of the canvas bare, leaving white patches within an image," says Smith. "He new intuitively what we now know scientifically - how the eye physically reacts when patches of light are left next to color, how the color pops. It became a major aspect of the work of artists to follow."

Though Cézanne began to garner praise late in his life, it wasn't until the years shortly after his death that artists across the world took what he had done and ran with it.

"None of the artists (in the Phoenix exhibition) met Cézanne. Some traveled to Europe and saw his works there, but many of them almost certainly would have never have seen a painting by Cézanne in person. There are works from the Southwest by artists who were filtering only through black-and-white reproductions of his work," says Smith.

Nevertheless, many sang his praises.

"(The artist) Andrew Dasburg said it was like a bright light coming on, after he saw his first Cézanne, and he was an evangelist for him when he got back home. Cézanne was a huge influence. You have one artist who would go on to inspire two - if not the two - major directions in modern painting: Cubism and Fauvism."

Pieces in the exhibition are grouped in themes: landscapes, still lifes, portraits and figures, or "bathers," in the landscape. They're hung so visitors can see Cézanne's original work and the art it inspired. While some of the works lean toward the abstract, Smith says every piece is recognizable.

"There's not a single work that you look at and say, ‘I have no idea what that is.' I hope it will get people looking at things in a different way and trying to understand where artists were coming from a hundred years ago, when they had few examples of Cézanne's work to work from and drew from their own experience to create something new."

Cézanne and American Modernism

What: See 16 of French master Paul Cézanne's paintings, along with more than 80 works by the American artists he influenced.

When: Exhibition opens Thursday. Museum hours are noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. It will also be open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. July 2; noon to 5 p.m. July 4 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 5.

Where: Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix

Cost: Included in general admission of $10 adults, $8 seniors/college students, $4 children ages 6-17. The museum is free 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the first Friday of the month.

Information: (602) 257-1222 or

Free art talk: French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne never visited the American West, but artists working there demonstrated his style in their own paintings. Jerry Smith, curator of American and Western American art, will show highlights from the Cézanne exhibition and discuss how artists of the American West adapted Cézanne's groundbreaking approach to painting. 7 p.m. July 7. Free.

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